Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fast Times at the Dinner Table

I grew up in the Sixties when schools were overcrowded with Baby Boomers—the enthusiastic affirmation of life demonstrated by the returning soldiers of World War II. The country had never seen so many children at one time and schools were not always prepared for this influx of eager minds and stomachs.

My school had a cafeteria that could not fit everyone in at lunch unless we were all restricted to shifts of 15-minutes to eat. That included the five minutes it took to stand in line and buy a tiny milk carton.

I remember the first time I sat down to eat the lunch my mother had lovingly made for me. It was first grade and I was about 6 years old. I had taken three or four bites from my turkey-on-white-bread sandwich. Then the bell rang and we had to throw what we had not eaten into the garbage and return to our classrooms. That was a hungry day for me. I soon learned to wolf down a lunch in five minutes. I was a professional food hurdler. Unfortunately, that is a habit that has remained with me for life.

My younger daughter eats veerrrry slooowwwly. She apologizes for it, but I always remind her that eating slowly is actually the way Nature intended for us to ingest our food. It’s healthier.

My younger daughter partakes in the joy of cupcakes.
At mealtime, I am generally finished eating almost before anyone in my family has raised their forks. They watch me in baffled wonderment. How does that 5-foot, 3-inch, 128-pound, middle-aged woman do it?

I have a sense of guilt about how fast I eat. Does it make me uncouth? I consciously try to eat more slowly in the presence of non-family members so they won’t think I was recently released from a prison camp in Azerbaijan.

I also feel bad about my inferior chewing rate. My doctor says one should chew every bite of food 30 times before swallowing. Sorry, alimentary canal, you will just have to man up on that one. I don’t have the patience or life skills for that much mastication.

Ironically, I will not eat in a fast food restaurant. Why? The “food” there is crap and makes me feel lousy. That means that I spend 30 minutes to an hour in the kitchen preparing edible food so that I can scarf it down in record speed. Something does not add up there.

When I was young, my mother tried to persuade me to finish my food by telling me that people in China were starving. So food has always been saturated with angst for me. Let’s consider that for a moment in the context of today’s world.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in 2010, there were 925 million people in this world who went hungry. Most of them were in Asia and Africa, but 19 million of them were in developed countries like the United States. Poverty is the primary cause. The FAO says that the world produces enough food to feed everyone, but more than 10 million children and 3 million adults die of starvation every year anyway. The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food. With a global population of about 7 billion people, that means that more than 13 out of every 100 people in this world do not have enough food to eat.

Closer to home, more than one in seven U.S. households lacked food security—defined as access to enough food to lead an active, healthy life—at some point in 2009, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That figure is the highest since record-keeping began in 1995.

When you think about that, it really doesn't matter how you eat—fast, slow, mannerly, sleeves as napkins, whatever. The important thing is that when your stomach starts growling, you are fortunate enough to have food on your plate.

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